Independant On-line, Waiting lists for Aids drugs 'can kill', 14 September 2004

Di Caelers

South Africans in the final stages of Aids are being sent away from treatment clinics, with instructions to return a year later to get their first anti-retroviral drugs, according to activist groups.

The HIF/Aids activists said on Monday that waiting lists for treatment, at some sites in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, ran to between May and August next year, by which time many of the people who needed the drugs were likely to have deteriorated considerably, or died.

People with HIV/Aids became eligible for anti-retrovirals only when their CD4 count (which measures the body's ability to fight the virus) fell below 200, so indications were that those on the waiting list should be starting treatment immediately.

The activist said that only 8 000 people in South Africa are getting treatment for HIV/Aids at public health facilities.

The government had promised that 53 000 people would be on treatment by March this year, and then amended that date to March next year, although hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to be in need of the life-prolonging drugs now.

In response, organisations including the Treatment Action Campaign, the Aids Law Project, Médecins Sans Frontieres, the Institute for Democracy in South Africa and the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, have joined forces to form the Joint Civil Society Monitoring and Evaluation Forum, to report back to the government and the public on successes and failures of the public sector anti-retroviral roll-out.

The forum says long waiting lists for treatment in at least two provinces scotches claims by Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang that drugs are available but that take-up is slow.

Other revelations included:

Médecins Sans Frontiéres has more people on treatment at its Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape site (380), than some provinces have.

In Limpopo, seven sites are accredited, but only one has started treatment (20 people).

Spending in terms of the HIV/Aids conditional grants to the provinces from the Treasury is lower for the first quarter of 2004 than it has been for the two previous years (13 percent of the total annual budget in 2002, 15 percent in 2003 and only 6,5 percent this year).

No final announcement made on the 10 shortlisted companies in the tender process for the supply of anti-retroviral drugs for the programme, even though the process should have been finished by the end of July, and that date was pushed back a month to the end of August.

No single drug, encompassing the three HIV/Aids therapies needed, has been registered yet in South Africa.

In KwaZulu-Natal, only 535 people are on treatment, even though some waiting lists extend to next August.

Meanwhile, the TAC could be set to face Tshabalala-Msimang in court again; it has a Pretoria High Court date for November 2. The TAC wants access to Annexure A of the anti-retroviral treatment roll-out plan, which the government has refused.

This article was originally published on page 5 of Cape Argus on September 14, 2004




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